Everything is beautiful

By Carl Kozlowski

Posted June 2, 2011 in Film

Sometimes our worst problems just sneak up on us. The moment that pushes us too far with our anger, or the need to win that eventually crosses the line into a gambling addiction, the split-second of weakness that makes someone try a deadly drug like heroin or crack—all too easy to think that they could never happen to us.

And yet they do happen, these snap judgments and bad decisions that often snowball with an almost imperceptible force until one day everyone around us realizes that we have a serious problem, even when we don’t see it ourselves. That’s Nick Halsey’s (Will Ferrell) highly troubling situation in the powerfully engaging drama Everything Must Go.

Everything finds Halsey on a day in which his boss terminates him for one too many embarrassing moments with alcohol at a professional function. Meanwhile, his wife is kicking him out of their house and has strewn all his possessions across their front lawn. Then there’s the cop who serves as Nick’s AA sponsor (Michael Pena) admitting to Nick that he’s been having an affair with his wife.

You can’t get much lower than that, right? Well, imagine if your wife told you that she needs everything gone from the yard within a week and you have nowhere to put it. Nick decides to just sell it, conducting a yard sale that also serves as an existential cleansing of his past.

This doesn’t sit well with his suburban neighbors, who call the cops on him after learning that he’s even sleeping and showering in his yard. Yet he does make two friends who care about him during his slow descent into apparent madness: a teenage African-American boy named Kenny who admits he’s a loner, and a new housewife named Samantha (Rebecca Hall), who can’t quite face up to the fact that she might be trapped in a loveless marriage.

The intertwining moments between Nick and each of his newfound friends form the emotional underpinning that is the heart of the movie. Kenny and Samantha are like far too many average folks out there: kindhearted people who want to help their friends when they see they’re in trouble, but afraid to speak up and demand the truth for themselves. As they see Nick unravel, they still treat him with respect and an occasional dose of touching humor, easing him toward deciding whether to clean up his act.

Everything Must Go is hardly a depressing film like Leaving Las Vegas, where Nicolas Cage famously drank himself to death in an Oscar-winning role that reeked as much of showboating as it did of alcohol. Here, Ferrell takes an entirely different tack, making Nick a guy who was the life of the party, the guy everyone loved and loved to work with, that is until that time when he suddenly couldn’t lay off the booze.

Following in the footsteps of fellow SNL alum Adam Sandler, Ferrell has for several years been mixing artistic parts in films like Winter Passing and Stranger than Fiction with his broad turns in comedy blockbusters. But here he reaches an entirely different level, with a beautifully nuanced turn that makes him an everyman to root for and remember.

Shot beautifully in the suburbs of Phoenix by first-time writer-director Dan Rush, who based his script on a short story by Raymond Carver, Everything Must Go offers a deeply resonant and human look at the failures we’re all one step away from. It’s also a reminder to look around us, realize that someone in our social circle or neighborhood might be hurting more than we know, and that it’s an essential and beautiful part of being human to reach out and help them.


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